There are endless options in the world of productivity systems today. If you’re anything like me you’ve been frustrated, exhausted, and desperate to find something that works. Today, I’d like to share a couple tools I keep coming back to: the Emergent Task Planner from Printable CEO + Pomodoro Timer!
Emergent Task Planner
The Emergent Task Planner is part of the Printable CEO series of productivity tools by Dave Seah. I stumbled across Dave 10 years ago and I’ve been using his stuff ever since. I even bought his spiral bound version on Amazon.
You can read all about how Dave recommends using the ETP on his site.
I’d like to take a couple minutes to show you how I’ve used this great tool to gain focus, identify time wasters, and improve my productivity.
How I Use It
I’ve created a modified version of the ETP for my own use, but it will work the same as if you have the regular ETP from Dave.
Start by writing the date in the date box provided. I prefer to use the format, “Tuesday 2015.03.09” as it’s easy to reference and flip through later. Then I fill in the blank underscores along the left edge with the hours of the day, starting with the hour you begin working. We’ll come back to that left column later.
Now to do some planning for your day. I prefer to do this the day before but that’s just me, do whatever works for you.
Write down the few things you absolutely have to get done today in the blanks provided. This is key, it’s not your wishlist, your want list, or your waste time list. Write down the “next right thing” to do in #1, then the one after that and so on until you have enough to occupy your work day. If it’s a bigger task that will take more than a day of work, break it down into smaller tasks.
Just keep it simple and don’t overthink it. What’s the next right thing you need to do? Write it down in #1. Repeat until your day can’t hold anymore.
As I go through my day, I like to put one slash through the number for a task I start work on. I add another slash to cross it out when it’s complete. That way I have an instant visual cue of what’s been started and whether I’m following my priorities. Which brings me to…
In the left column there is a box and a line for every 15 minutes in the day. This is where I differ the most from Dave’s method. I use this column to track my day. I might block off appointments I know won’t move, but I generally track my day as it unfolds. This has been an invaluable tool to me for seeing weaknesses in my discipline focus, and identifying time wasting people or activities.
The critical ingredient for me on this step is my pomodoro timer app (iOS/OS X). Without it I would never remember to keep this thing updated. I prefer to set my alarm interval to 60 or 55 minutes. This has been a good balance between disturbing focus and catching me being off track. If I’ve gotten off track the alarm snaps me out of it and back on task (after logging what I wasted time on). But if I was on track I simply glance at my plan and just keep going, no context switch necessary.
As for what to put in the boxes and on the lines? I put a dot in a box or fill it in when I’m starting something, then I’ll continue to draw a solid line down until I stop that task, at which point I end it with another dot or fill. I put a slash through a box or series of boxes if there was wasted time or a break taken. On the line, I put the task number and circle it so it’s easy to spot–nothing else needed. If it’s something not on my plan I just give it a brief summary. Which brings me to…
As you progress through your work day there are always things that come up that require your time and attention. Maybe you forgot a critical task for today, or something falls apart and you have to work on it now.
Enter the emerging notes area! This is where I write down the unplanned tasks or activities throughout my day (again with a line number you can use in your tracking column). It’s also great for just taking notes throughout your day or jotting something down to add to tomorrow’s task planner.
See? Nothing too fancy, it just works! If you’re struggling with getting things done and frustrated with your current productivity method, give it a try: download the ETP, install a pomodoro timer, and start! Just remember: a system can only be as good as the person using it. In order for it to work, you’ve got to work!
If it helps sway you, here are a few reasons I think this paper method keeps working for me:
- Physical medium. It’s paper and it’s in front of me. Can’t be out of sight, so it stays at the front of my mind.
- Forces focus. This process forces me to get a few key tasks done rather than chipping away at dozens of tasks without real progress.
- Identifies waste. If you’re able to keep up with tracking your day you’ll never have that “what did I even get done today?” feeling ever again. You’ll know exactly what you did and where it went wrong or right. It’s amazing. Do it.